Cardinal Ratzinger and Father Marcial Maciel

In this slide (9/16) on ABC’s slideshow report on the supposed mishandling of the abuse cases of Father Marcial Maciel, we are told:

Before he became Pope in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and a top aide to Pope John Paul II. Some of those who accused Father Maciel of molesting them also alleged that Cardinal Ratzinger, who had responsibility for investigating all charges of sexual abuse with the church, attempted to cover up the charges against Maciel when they were brought to his attention in 1998.

This is interesting because in actual fact, Ratzinger was not in charge of investigating all charges of sexual abuse within the church in 1998. That didn’t happen until 2001, when John Paul II published Mot proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (or SST), which shifted oversight to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which then-Cardinal Ratzinger headed.

Even before the death of John Paul II Cardinal Ratzinger had begun the investigation of Maciel and the Legion.


According to Archbishop Levada (who now heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith):

Here are some of the advances made by this new Church legislation (SST). It has allowed for a streamlined administrative process in arriving at a judgment, thus reserving the more formal process of a canonical trial to more complex cases. This has been of particular advantage in missionary and small dioceses that do not have a strong complement of well-trained canon lawyers. It provides for erecting inter-diocesan tribunals to assist small dioceses. The Congregation has faculties allowing it derogate from the prescription of a crime (statute of limitations) in order to permit justice to be done even for “historical” cases. Moreover, SST has amended canon law in cases of sexual abuse to adjust the age of a minor to 18 to correspond with the civil law in many countries today. It provides a point of reference for bishops and religious superiors to obtain uniform advice about handling priests’ cases. Perhaps most of all, it has designated cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics as graviora delicta: most grave crimes, like the crimes against the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance perennially assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This in itself has shown the seriousness with which today’s Church undertakes its responsibility to assist bishops and religious superiors to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, and to punish them when they happen. Here is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the Congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church.

These new measures are the direct work of Cardinal Ratzinger, and the new measures taken to bring accountability and justice to the Church are the direct results of a Pope who takes these matters far more seriously than any of his predecessors.

Sullivan calls the ABC slideshow a ‘powerful reminder’ but I have to wonder how he draws such different lessons from it than I do.

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12 thoughts on “Cardinal Ratzinger and Father Marcial Maciel

  1. To be fair, I think they’re probably relying on John Allen’s (invaluable) reporting here for the 1998 date:

    “Accusations that Maciel had abused members of the controversial order had circulated for several decades, but in 1998 a group of former members dumped the case directly in Ratzinger’s lap. They filed a canonical complaint with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, since its disciplinary section handles certain serious offenses under canon law, including abuse of the sacrament of penance, and Maciel was accused of absolving his victims in the confessional.

    That complaint languished until late 2001, when the mushrooming crisis in the States put new pressure on the Vatican to engage the sexual abuse issue across the board. Still, even though an investigation was launched, no action was taken against Maciel for the next four years — in part, critics said, because he was protected by influential Vatican patrons, up to and including John Paul II himself.”

    Going back to you’re earlier post, it’s very surprising to me that Benedict rather than JPII is singled out for these attacks. JPII was a charismatic and genuinely charitable man whose first instinct was to trust people and allow them to exercise independent authority. That trust was often misplaced, however, and there is little doubt in my view that these misjudgments made the scandal worse. It’s instructive to me that Benedict had taken action against Marciel within three months of becoming Pope, while the case had languished for years beforehand. In any case, I think it’s important to be clear that Benedict’s conduct was certainly not perfect; but it seems clear that he is far less blameworthy than most of the other principals:

    “In the complex world of court politics at the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith became the beachhead for an aggressive response to the sexual abuse crisis. Ratzinger and his deputies sometimes squared off against other departments which regarded the “zero tolerance” policy as an over-reaction, not to mention a distortion of the church’s centuries-long canonical tradition, in which punishments are supposed to fit the crime, and in which tremendous discretion is usually left in the hands of bishops and other superiors to mete out discipline.

    Behind the scenes, some Vatican personnel actually began to grumble that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had “drunk the Kool-aid,” in the sense of accepting the case for sweeping changes in the way priests are supervised and disciplined.

    Ratzinger’s transformation can also be glimpsed from an exchange with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, which George described in April 2005, just after the conclave which propelled Benedict XVI to the papacy.

    Two days before the opening of the conclave, George met Ratzinger in his Vatican office to discuss the American sex abuse norms, including the “one strike and you’re out” policy. Those norms had been approved grudgingly in late 2002 by the Vatican, and only for a five-year period. George said he wanted to discuss with Ratzinger the arguments for making the norms permanent. Ratzinger, according to George, showed “a good grasp of the situation.”

    Forty-eight hours later, Ratzinger was the new pope. As is the custom, the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel made their way, one-by-one, to the new pontiff in order to pledge their support and obedience. As George kissed his hand, Benedict XVI made a point of telling him, in English, that he remembered the conversation the two men had about the sexual abuse norms, and would attend to it.

    The new pope’s first words to a senior American prelate, in other words, were a vow of action on the crisis.”

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  2. Ordinary Gentlemen — doesn’t this obsessive style of posting seem familiar? Andrew Sullivan has taken over E.D.’s body, or at least his fingers. You should consider an intervention, or perhaps an exorcism.

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  3. Sullivan draws different lessons because the core of his problem with the Church has only indirectly to do with sexual abuse per se and much more to do with a hierarchy and repressive traditionalism that caused the sexuality of “young gay, Catholic teens” who go on to become priests to be “frozen at the first real moment of internal terror” (speaking of which, I have yet to see him condemned for basically calling the scandal, in the words of Bill Donahue, a “homosexual crisis”). So for him a reminder is “powerful” when it undermines the authority of the hierarchy and allows him to say, over and over, “we are the Church.”

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    • “speaking of which, I have yet to see him condemned for basically calling the scandal, in the words of Bill Donahue, a “homosexual crisis””

      Thank you for pointing this out. Ever since this broke, Sullivan has wanted this both ways; that homosexuality doesn’t cause abuse but the Vatican is too restrictive on homosexuality. It doesn’t make sense. If in fact, the root cause of the abuse is homosexuality (which I don’t think it is, btw) then it logically follows to restrict access to the priesthood for homosexuals. If homosexuality doesn’t cause abuse, then why bark about the red herring? Why not work to solve the real problem (cover up/lack of transparancy/reluctance to involve civil authorities/ignorance of canonical penalties)?

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  4. “…a Pope who takes these matters far more seriously than any of his predecessors.”

    Did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe, for practicing Catholics, these measures simply aren’t good enough? As someone who raised a Roman Catholic, such measures to me, are barely finger lifting, at best. Why you think this basic tolerance of what is a crime is essentially o.k. is beyond me.

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